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Kiribati Language Week: Road of many paths

  • Carol Edwards Grandparents
    Carol’s grandparents
  • Carol Edwards Childhood 2
    Carol and Richard
  • Carol Edwards Childhood 1
    Carol and her twin brother Richard as kids
  • Carol Edwards + Sisters
    Molia Alama, Carol Edwards, Teu Smiley Navosa
  • Carol Edwards
    Fanning Island

Carolyn (Carol) Edwards born in Thames, Coromandel and is of Kiribati, Tuvalu and Cook Island descent. Carol has worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the past 15 years and has worked in Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Indonesia, and Wellington and is now based in the MFAT Auckland Office.

Carol and her twin brother Richard spent most of their childhood days living in Solomon Islands, Kiribati and New Zealand and were raised by their grandparents Caroline and Simon Edwards and her Aunty and Uncle Peter and Lavinia Dreaver. Carol is working on an autobiography and shares some of her journey with Lupeti at the Pacific Centre in celebration of Kiribati Language Week…

Kam na bane Mauri. Arau ngai bon Nei Carol Edwards ao bon tei Kiribati ngai mai Butaritari, Abaiang ao Beru ao I maeka i Auckland, Nu Tiran.  Hello everyone my name is Carol Edwards, I am from the Kiribati islands of Butaritari, Abaiang and Beru and I live in Auckland, NZ

The theme for this year’s language week is “Maubonian te teei i nanon te mwenga bon karekean te maiuraoi, te ongotaeka ao te tangira”, which means “the home is where we nurture our children towards a healthy, responsible, loving, and prosperous future”.  For me personally this is a timely reminder to our people the purpose of leaving our homelands to New Zealand, was for our children to have access to better education, better healthcare, better standards of living but not to forget where we came from and that we teach our next generation the importance of our culture, language and identity and incorporate that into our everyday lives of living, studying and working to contribute and create a diverse environment in our new homeland.

Kiribati is located in the central Pacific halfway between Australia and Hawaii. It’s the only country in the world that straddles all four hemispheres north south east and west. The average height of the islands is two metres above sea level except for Banaba which rises 80m above sea level. People from Kiribati are Micronesians and we are known as I-Kiribati.

Kiribati may be one of the smallest island atolls in the Pacific but it has a sea area mass of 3.5 million square kilometres which is about the size of India. We are surrounded by water therefore identify as people of Oceania.

The biggest challenge living in Kiribati now apart from Covid is the rising sea level caused by climate change.  This affects our people, our crops, our water lense and causes land erosion. I’ve seen first-hand a whole village disappear by land erosion and is ground zero for climate change.

Two things I would like to share about the Kiribati culture are:

  • Te Maneaba.  The maneaba in the Kiribati tradition is a very important place for all I-Kiribati to gather.  We know it as the house of justice, house of entertainment and also a house of accommodation.  Maneaba is made from two words manea which means accommodate and aba which means land or it can also mean people so it can have two meanings which is accommodate the people who live on the land or accommodate the land on which people live.  In some maneabas there are certain sitting protocols where a place has been allocated to a family (kaainga). If the head of that kaainga is unable to attend the village meeting he can nominate someone to take his place who will then sit at his appointed spot and speak on his behalf.  Traditionally only the unimane or elderly men were the only people allowed to speak but these days both men and women can speak in the maneaba if asked to.
  • “Te Maie ni Kiribati” or the Traditional Kiribati dancing is unique in the Pacific.  The movement of the feet, hands and the body imitates the movement of the frigate bird.  In Kiribati there are eight styles of Kiribati dancing which are te buki, te ruoia, te kabuti, te tierere (stick dance) te Kaimatoa and Te bino.

Interesting facts about Kiribati

  • It is the only country in the world which is in all four hemispheres – north, south, east and west!  Because of its location it is strategically sensitive and attractive.
  • It is the first country in the world to greet the New Year.
  • In 1995 Kiribati bent the International Date Line round the eastern Islands to make it the same day right through Kiribati.
  • It is a Republic which used to be a British Crown Colony.
  • The highest point above sea level of all the islands is only 3 meters, except for Banaba, (Ocean Island), which rises to 80m. It was mined for phosphate rock and by 1979, 90% of the surface was stripped away, leaving behind only limestone pinnacles. After the brutal Japanese occupation in WW2, the Banabans were moved by the British authorities to Rabi Island in Fiji. Some returned to Banaba, but little of the island is of use as it once was. Much of Banaba made NZ farms fertile!
  • At low tide the land size of Kiribati doubles!
  • There are 13 letters in the Kiribati language – ‘ti’ is pronounced ‘s’ – therefore Kiribati is pronounced Kiribas
  • There are about 120 000 Kiribati people and one third of them live on South Tarawa, making it very over-crowded.
  • Kiribati people are Micronesians, originally from SE Asia.
  • Kiritimati (Christmas) Island is the world’s largest coral atoll.  In the late 1950s the UK conducted nuclear tests there, and by the US in 1962.  Now the whole island is a Wildlife Sanctuary and is renowned for fly fishing and underwater diving. Its area makes up more than half the land area of Kiribati!
  • Teraina (Washington) Island is the only coral atoll in the world to have a fresh water lake instead of a lagoon.


Common Kiribati Phrases

Hello: Mauri

How are you?: Ko uara

How are you all?: Kam uara

I’m fine thanks: I marurung ko rabwa

Come and eat: nakomai amarake

I’m tired: I a kua

What time does your class start: e na waaki ningai am reirei?

What’s your name?: Antai aram?

My name is Carol: Arau Nei Carol (Nei is used for females)

My name is John: Arau Ten John (Ten is used for males)



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